Monday, November 30, 2015

Terrorism and Gun Violence on Both Sides of the Ocean

A good friend who has been traveling to America on business for more than a decade left Brussels, Belgium, for her current trip to America just days after the Paris shootings while Brussels was still on lock down for a possible second attack.  

Part of her trip to America is to visit her brother in Colorado Springs for Thanksgiving.  So she was there yesterday when a gunman shot eleven people in a Planned Parenthood clinic.  She will be returning to Pennsylvania before going back to Europe.  I hope nothing like this happens in here in Pennsylvania.

But it could.  

Because Fundamentalists of every kind share a common belief that they are right and everybody else is both wrong and can be killed for The Cause.

So murderous Muslim Fundamentalists attack the most civilized city on the planet, and a lone Fundamentalist, reportedly armed with the same weapon, the AK47, shoots eleven people on the day after Thanksgiving.  Because whatever kind of nut-job Fundamentalist he is, the faux God he has made up in his head told him that killing innocent people is the right thing to do.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Who Fights Our Wars? Flight Medic Leaving For Fifth Deployment

Nearly 100 years ago, young American men were leaving farms across America, joining every branch of the military to fight in World War One.  One in three Americans lived on a farm during the first decades of the 20th Century so just about every squad of soldiers had farmer.

Today fewer than two in 100 Americans live on farms, but one of those Americans with a small family farm is headed for his fifth deployment.  Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Kwiecien, a flight medic with nearly 20 years of service, will be leaving for Southwest Asia later this year.  He is deploying with Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion where he will serve as Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the unit. 

On 4.5 acres in mid-state Pennsylvania, Kwiecien and his family raise chickens, ducks and guinea hens.  He is considering adding goats and bees along with the flock of nearly 50 birds, but those plans are on hold until after deployment.  Raising poultry for eggs and for the table is one of several hobbies Kwiecien has, including making medical apparel, rock climbing and playing the drums.   

Kwiecien joined the Army in 1996, serving on active duty for six years.  He joined the Army National Guard in 2003.  In 19 years of service he has deployed to Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and twice to Iraq, most recently with the 56th Stryker Brigade in 2009.  He has served on active duty with the Guard since returning from deployment in 2010. 

In a phone interview while he was on a weekend pass, Kwiecien talked about his view of life before going on another deployment. 

I am a product of….
Years of failure.  I am very persistent.  I think that persistence has paid off because after 19 years and many failures I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and like Thomas Edison who figured all the ways not to make a lightbulb, I move on and stick with the things that work.  It’s better to try and fail than to never give your dream a shot.
Several years ago, Kwiecien went to a weekend-long evaluation for a National Guard Special Forces Unit in Maryland.  He got through the first weekend and was told he could come back for the second round of evaluations.  In between he got promoted and by taking the promotion took himself out of the program.  Although he did not make it into the Special Forces, he does not regret the attempt.

Relaxation is…
The search for serenity. Finding the situation or the place that is completely calming.  My big plan after deployment is to go to Zion national Park in Utah with my family. Getting away from civilization and being one with nature. Rock climbing and hiking are things I really look forward to on visits to national parks.

You can have the best idea…
But execution makes a good idea real. A good plan put into motion today and refined as needed is better than a great plan that hasn’t been started.  Hesitation and indecision kill good plans and good ideas.

There is drama…
There’s always drama it’s nothing new and it’s never going away. I tell my soldiers keep your private life private and your professional life professional and I won’t need to be involved in your private life.

The best lesson I ever had…

My dad told me when I was graduating from high school and we were looking at colleges that people should always have a skill in addition to higher education.  When he returns from deployment, Kwiecien will be starting a business making medical clothing for first responders. 

Kwiecien at work:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wikipedia Loves Weapons, Not Soldiers

This week I had a meeting with a "Wikipedian in Residence" at a history of science museum.  I was asking her about how to put people on Wikipedia.  Specifically, I wanted to write about National Guard First Sergeants and Sergeant's Majors and I thought it would be possible to create Wikipedia pages about some of the top sergeants I would write about.

Not possible.

My friend the Wikipedian went through the rules for creating a page about a person, and it is not possible to create a page about an enlisted soldier, or any soldier below the rank of Major General unless they have received the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross.

I understand they have to have rules, but there is no weapon or vehicle that does not have a page. Also, in the context of the entire world of who gets on Wikipedia, it is very clear soldiers are not all Heroes.

Because the real heroes of our culture can and do have Wikipedia pages:

The culture may use the word "hero" to refer to the guy who lives down the street and goes to war every few years, but our real heroes get fame and money.  A first sergeant who spends a year in the desert making sure his men are ready to fight and hopefully get home, that guy does not does not meet the athlete/movie star/porn star/televangelist/serial killer threshold required to be the subject of a Wikipedia page.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Pictures from Aircraft Refueling in Phillipsburg

More photos:

Fueling Aircraft in Phillipsburg

Last weekend I flew to Mid State Airport in Phillipsburg in a Chinook helicopter.  Aboput 100 soldiers had set up a refueling site at the end of the abandoned airstrip in the middle of the state.  In addition to the fuel site, they set up air traffic control, a tactical operations center, and a maintenance area.

It was bitterly cold.  Here are some photos of the cold soldiers putting fuel in "hot" aircraft.  Hot fueling is putting the fuel in while the aircraft is running.  Cold fuel is when the engines are shut down.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Battalion Commander in Iraq was Promoted to Brigadier General Today

Scott Perry was promoted to Brigadier General today.  Pinning on the stars are his mother, Cecelia Lenig, daughters Mattea and Ryenn, and wife Christy.

On a windswept parade field on Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in February of 2009, then Lt. Col. Scott Perry spoke to the battalion he would command in Iraq a few months later.  The soldiers at Fort Sill were the majority of the 700 who would make up Task Force Diablo at Camp Adder, Iraq.  In that speech, Perry told those troops, some of whom were seeing their commander for the first time, that “Envy destroys community.” 

Not every commander mentions the second worst of the Seven Deadly Sins at the beginning of a deployment, but Perry turned that warning into a goal for every soldier.  “If someone is getting something you want, don’t envy, go and get what you want.  Don’t worry about them.”

After 35 years of service that began with basic training in 1980 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Perry pinned on the star of a Brigadier General and joined the very small community of soldiers who achieve flag rank.  Perry, following his own advice, pursued his own goals and today achieved a very big goal for an Army officer. 

Following basic training, Perry served in the enlisted ranks for several years before attending Officer Candidate School.  He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery branch, but soon branch-transferred to Army Aviation, where he became qualified in numerous aircraft including Huey, Cayuse, Kiowa, Cobra, Chinook, Apache and Blackhawk helicopters and is an instructor pilot.  His 29 years as a pilot began with flight school in 1986 and ended this summer with a final flight at Muir Field on Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. 

As an Aviation Officer, he has commanded at the company, battalion and brigade levels throughout his career including serving as company commander during a deployment to Kosovo in 2002.

Perry commanded 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion when it deployed to Iraq in 2009-10.  During this deployment, he flew 44 combat missions. 

In 2011, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and recently completed command of the Fort Indiantown Gap National Training Site. 

He presently serves Assistant Division Commander (Support) for the 28th Infantry Division.  He is a graduate of the US Army War College with a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies.  In addition to serving in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Perry is in his second term as a United States Congressman representing Pennsylvania’s Fourth Congressional District.  Perry and his wife Christy are the proud parents of two daughters, Ryenn and Mattea.

Stuffing a Humvee into a Chinook Helicopter

A Chinook helicopter looks huge inside and out compared to any other helicopter in the Army inventory--until you try to fit a Humvee inside of it.  Then the very big Chinook helicopter looks a lot smaller when you see a Humvee backing into it.  The Humvee is just a couple of inches narrower than the cargo area of the Chinook.  It also fits within just a few inches on top.

But it fits.  Here are some photos:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My First Flight in a UH72 Lakota Helicopter

Today I got my first ride in the very plush UH72 Lakota helicopter.  I was at Mid State Airport near Phillipsburg, Pa. on Army training.  I flew up in a Chinook helicopter and was about to board it for the return flight, when I saw Tom Luckenbach, one of the pilots who has flown nearly every aircraft in the Army inventory.  He flew up in a Lakota. I asked if I could ride back with him.

Ten minutes later, I was in the small scout helicopter and listening to the pilots and crew chief go through their pre-flight routines.

Even with choppy air, the small, new aircraft was quiet and smooth for the 100-mile trip.  Here's some pictures from my seat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cat Lover in Iraq: Chased Out of Briefing Tent

During our deployment to Iraq in 2009 - 10, fuelers from Echo Company, 2-104th GASB were dispersed to bases all across the southern half of Iraq, from Camp Garry Owen on the Iran-Iraq border to Camp Normandy near Baghdad.

These lonely detachments refueled helicopters at all times in all weather.  At Camp Normandy in the summer, one of the fueler sergeants made a pet out of a cat.  He named it Fluffy.  

One day he walked into the morning briefing and announced, "We lost one of our own last night." The sergeant looked genuinely sad.  The dozen soldiers in the room started whipping their heads around looking to see who was not at morning meeting.  Then someone said, "Who?"

The big sergeant said, "Fluffy, somebody ran her over in the night.  She was stuck to a HEMMT tire this morning when I found her."

Several soldiers threw Gatorade bottles and chased him out of the tent.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Aviation Week Magazine Writes About Army Aviation in PA National Guard

Last drill weekend I spent the day with a reporter and photographer from Aviation Week magazine.  Today they published a blog post about the visit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015 Put CW2 Sara Christensen Story on its Home Page.

Today I got a message that my story about Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sara is featured today on the hone page of the Defense Department.  I'm glad they liked the story. She is a great soldier.  The story is here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For

I started listening to Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For (1987), and to U2 just over a year ago.  Okay, I know that makes me a little slow.  The 40th anniversary of U2 being formed is next year.   Better late than never.

I listened to this song as I trained for the Ironman triathlon last year.

With my Army career ending soon, it's time to admit that re-enlisting at 54 was great way to have a mid-life crisis and keep my family, job and bank account.  But it was a mid-life crisis.  Worse still it was a spiritual quest that failed.  The radiant spiritual part of being in the Army my first time around was absent this time.

When I re-enlisted, part of me really thought I would meet the kind of believers and non-believers I met in the 1970s Army and be part of a group of people living in the shadow of a World War 3 who were looking for the Kingdom of God, and looking across the border at 250,000 Soviet troops who were going to make the Kingdom of God a shorter trip for us.

In fact the annual casualties of the Cold War were higher than the part of Iraq where I served.  During the 1970s, the annual NATO war game called REFORGER claimed 30-50 lives each year.  That was back when we drove Jeeps.  Half the deaths were Jeep rollovers.  Crashed helicopters and people crushed by armored vehicles were most of the rest.

But if humility is the center of spirituality, as most Divines agree, then going to war at 56 is a spiritually corrosive.  That deployment was my first actual combat deployment.  When I flew to Camp Garry Owen on the Iran-Iraq border with Col. Peter Newell and got the 1st Armored Combat Patch, that was the first time I wore an Armor unit patch despite seven years in Armor in the 70s and 80s.

I really was looking for spirituality.  I really got pride.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Last 12 Days in the Army

My last official day in the Army will be May 3, 2016, but I only have 12 days left of actual service.  Those 12 days will be over six weekends between mid-November and mid-April.  December drill is the Christmas party.  January or February I turn in my field gear.  So I am a short timer for the fourth time in my multi-stage military career.

While serving in the Army has been fun, it is time for me to leave.  I was going to try to extend for one more year, but Annual Training eats away the bicycle racing season, and since another year would just be for fun, I decided to have fun another way.

Also, now that I am retired as a civilian, I have been thinking a lot about who my people are and why I re-enlisted in 2007.  While I do not regret re-enlisting, being in the Army was not what I imagined or hoped it would be.  It was fun, it was a challenge, but in many ways I fit in as well as a vegan at a barbecue.  But more on that later.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...